3 Ways B2B Sellers Can Thrive in a Virtual Landscape
At a time when paid search and e-commerce sites can rival human salespeople on conversion metrics, traditional sales roles are taking a hit.
In 2017, Forrester predicted that 1 million sales reps would be out of a job this year. That number has little chance of improving, and economic downturns aren’t entirely to blame: The rise of COVID-19 cases and potential for lengthy shutdowns ushered in the shift to digital even faster than we expected. Salespeople who evolve to an accelerator approach in this virtual-first world will have the advantage—and keep their jobs.
“Accelerator sellers” are the ones who can deliver value by providing crucial solution-related information that isn’t available online. These sellers use their business acumen and empathy to make value personal for the buyer. Because these sellers offer knowledge and expertise that their C-level prospects lack, they’re able to truly impact a customer’s business results.
Why Accelerator Selling Outperforms Other Selling Methodologies
A major shift happened during the financial crisis of 2007-2009 in the buying behavior of B2B customers. Previously, both buyers and sellers had focused on specific products and the solutions they provided. During that recession, however, customers changed their tune. They became more willing to purchase and pay a premium—but only if the seller could truly accelerate the achievement of their desired business results.
Buying cycles have changed as a result, becoming even more unpredictable. Though companies strive for agility, they’re slower to make purchasing decisions. And no wonder, when there are multiple stakeholders with competing needs and frequent changes in corporate priorities. The pace of business seems to speed up every day, yet floods of information and evolving objectives make it increasingly difficult for buyers to make decisions quickly.
With the economic uncertainty posed by COVID-19, it’s even more critical for buyers to invest wisely in solutions that are tailored to their circumstances and goals.
This is why solution-focused selling isn’t enough to reach B2B customers. Instead, customers seek out salespeople who focus on overall business results. Our research shows that customers would actually be willing to buy more—even at higher prices—if salespeople could align their sales pitches with business outcomes. Unfortunately, only 23 percent of the hundreds of business leaders we surveyed typically observe those behaviors from salespeople.
Salespeople who demonstrate an understanding of their customers’ business goals, priorities, and challenges are more successful. In fact, in-market key performance indicators demonstrate a distinct link between sales results and customers’ commercial success.
Now, the question is this: How can we execute accelerator selling on this new virtual front?
Building Accelerator Selling in a Virtual Landscape
The top three behaviors customers want to see from sellers all demonstrate an accelerator-based approach (business goals) rather than a solutions approach (short-term fixes). Likewise, customers need sellers who can embody these traits while adapting quickly to our virtual landscape.
1. Show a greater understanding of a customer’s business priorities, goals, opportunities, and challenges. Nothing turns off prospective customers faster than sellers who haven’t done their homework. They’re spending valuable time listening to a pitch and assessing whether the product or service would be a good fit for their company. Facing an unprepared seller is frankly insulting. But asking smart, business-focused questions and speaking the prospect’s language demonstrates that both seller and customer are working from the same side of the table.
This is even more important in virtual interactions, where creating high-impact dialogue can be more difficult. Accelerator sellers must be more efficient not only at understanding clients’ business results during virtual engagements, but also at tailoring their pitches. If sellers use whiteboarding during face-to-face meetings to map out potential business results, for example, they’ll need to be flexible and tweak their approach using new tools that are available to them.
2. Maintain an appropriate sense of urgency. Customers’ business goals are their top priority, especially in the midst of an economic downturn. If sellers don’t share that sense of urgency about meeting those goals, prospects won’t feel like the sellers are actually invested in their mission. Sellers need to demonstrate urgency by speeding up their discovery time, working to align internal stakeholders, and responding to questions within the hour if at all possible. In addition, simplifying their trials and demos will maximize prospects’ time and make it easier for them to share with executives.
In the digital realm, this creates an opportunity for sellers to create more frequent, targeted, and stress-free virtual touchpoints. Customers will feel closer to sellers, and sellers will be able to meet their needs in a much more flexible way.
3. Demonstrate a clear understanding of marketplace dynamics. Every customer has a slightly different position in the market. Sellers shouldn’t assume that just because they’ve sold to a similar company, this new prospect shares the same market position. To help customers succeed, sellers need the business acumen to understand all of the resources the buyer’s company offers, including products and solutions, as well as the prospect’s financial targets, strategic initiatives, customers, and even their customers’ customers. In order to close the deal, salespeople need to bring all these to bear to help customers succeed.
A solution without knowledge is one a customer can easily pass up. Focusing on these behaviors will better equip sales teams to close the value gap with prospects and give customers what they want—accelerator-based selling—even in our new virtual landscape.
Rick Cheatham is the chief marketing officer at BTS. In his previous role as head of sales practice, he worked with clients such as Google, JPMorgan, and General Electric to drive their sales efforts into the future. Cheatham leads a team of more than 20 consultants and conceptualizes many of the BTS solutions deployed in the United States.